As we recognize today, September 14, as National Sober day, I cannot help but reflect upon so many we have lost to addiction. Most recently, we lost actor Michael K. Williams. Mr. Williams was another talented person that departed earth too soon. Addiction is a hideous and unforgiving disease. I am not an expert on the disease but did learn a lot over the years speaking with different people about their chronic lifelong struggles with addiction. It is evident in my interactions with individuals afflicted with addiction that success, money, opportunity, and education does not make you immune to suffering. Mr. Williams faced difficulty in staying on a sober path even after his new found stardom. I learned like so many that no matter how much of a brave and functional front people let on, they can be suffering on the inside.
Mr. Williams was a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform and for redefining policing in his neighborhood. Rarely do we see talented individuals give back to their communities as they continue to thrive in their careers. He was passionate about painting a new outlook for youth and empowering them to know their rights and worth. It is hard to believe that someone so positive about the future generation was battling his own addiction demons inside.
So often, society glorifies the use of drugs or drinking as both a right of passage as a teen or young person and as a symbol of success in some fields such as entertainment. The phrase sex, drugs, and rock and roll is self explanatory. The debate over marijuana being a gateway drug has also picked up speed with the legalization of cannabis in some states. Mr. Williams started using marijuana and eventually cocaine. This may not be the path for all just as a person that drinks at a party may not become an alcoholic. However, some of us are predisposed to addictive personalities and often society, including our healthcare systems, makes it too easy to fall victim to those addictions. Excessive drinking that can often occur in college settings should not be normalized. Similarly, not recognizing that any form of drug, legal or not can be a gateway to addiction is a dangerous perception to have. Doctors over prescribing opioids for routine medical procedures can be just as dangerous for some people. Whether it is in advertisement, college and sorority hazing rituals or some entertainment fields, excessive drinking and drug use should not be normalized or glorified. We also can not afford to ignore those who are suffering by creating a culture of functional addicts. Addiction, like other diseases within communities of color, have outcomes that are often determined by environments. Public spaces such as parks riddled with drug paraphernalia, liquor stores, open drug markets, etc. are all things you see in certain neighborhoods. What you do not see in the same areas are additional hospitals, wellness clinics, mental health assistance, quality schools, and other resources.
The False Cure
Mr. Williams battled his demons for many years. He was a functioning addict in many regards but still aware of his struggles. One can wonder if those around him were also aware and enabled him. A person who is an addict can learn to adapt to their environment to the point that it does not impact their daily routine habits or work. In an old interview, Mr. Williams admitted to being high while meeting former president Barack Obama. He was aware and still could not sober up for the meeting. It is important to realize that addiction is a disease not just a choice. It is a lifelong disease whose recovery is contingent upon many factors. You do not suddenly wake up and are cured. This is a misconception. It can be an everyday battle that is more difficult for others than some and at various points in their lives to stay sober.
Society continues to glorify drugs and drinking in culture, arts, and entertainment yet within the healthcare industry there is not enough that is done to support those inflicted with this disease and to support healthy recovery for the long term. Instead, like everything else, depending on where you live instead of healthy treatment options, you may find local liquor stores, smoke shops or known drug sources. In wealthier neighborhoods, no such outlets can be found. Until we demand more for our neighborhoods and more resources, you will continue to see the same cycle. People may think drugs and alcohol only impact these areas, however, an addict is not determined by where they live or their money. It is a disease that can devastate families alike. On this National Sober day let us celebrate those who are in recovery and while reflecting on those who lost their battle.